« Economic Espionage Act | Main | Armstrong Comes Clean; The Legal and Economic Fallout of an Athlete's Mea Culpa »

Week in Review

By Martha Nimmer

Furniture Fights

It is unlikely that anyone will ever refer to the current era of reality TV as the "Golden Age" of television, but this television genre has nonetheless produced an array of interesting -- and often weird -- lawsuits. The latest noteworthy suit comes from high-end furniture maker Heptagon Creations Ltd. Last year, Heptagon sued real estate brokerage firm Core Group for copyright infringement. The suit alleged that Core Group used images of Heptagon's furniture without permission, ultimately using the images to create a "virtual, fully-furnished replica of [an] apartment to show interested buyers" on the HGTV series Selling New York. A judge dismissed this claim last year, but Heptagon appealed the decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The Second Circuit has affirmed the lower court's ruling, stating that "copyright protection does not extend to 'useful articles,' but individual design elements that comprise a portion of a utilitarian article may be eligible for copyright protection if the design element is either physically or conceptually separable form the article's functional elements."


Read the decision here: http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/decisions/isysquery/74331957-ff26-421c-8cf4-290b68ebf656/1/doc/12-317_so.pdf#xml=http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/decisions/isysquery/74331957-ff26-421c-8cf4-290b68ebf656/1/hilite/

Family Feud

Lady Gaga is well-known for her unconventional music, and perhaps even more for her 'unconventional' hair styles and clothing materials (meat dress, anyone?). At least for the near future, however, Lady Gaga will be known for being at the center of a father-daughter legal battle over one of her songs.

Last week, music producer Teddy Riley filed suit in California against his daughter, Taja, concerning a song that he allegedly developed with Lady Gaga back in September 2009. According to the complaint, Lady Gaga shared with Mr. Riley her concept for a composition that was originally entitled, "Show Me Your Teeth," which made it onto her Monster album as the song "Teeth." The music was written by Teddy Riley, he alleges, with lyrics from the Mother Monster herself. What followed next seems to be a classic case of sibling jealously: Taja Riley "'desirous of starting her own career in the music and entertainment business' and aware that her older sister Deja had been 'granted a gift of songwriting credit' by their father," initiated a discussion with her father about whether he would also gift a songwriting credit to Taja. Mr. Riley denies ever giving her such a credit.

Nevertheless, Taja Riley is said to have later signed a deal with EMI Music Publishing and EMI Virgin Music, claiming a co-writing credit and a 24% interest in the song "Teeth." Mr. Riley states that "the representations made by Taja Riley as to participation in the creation of the composition, authorship, and ownership are all false and untrue and that Defendant Taja Riley did not participate in any way in the creation of the composition, and did not own any rights whatsoever to The Song."

Mr. Riley raises several causes of action against his daughter, including copyright infringement, fraudulent copyright registration, unfair competition and accounting. EMI and Sony/ATV have also been named as defendants.

Hopefully for the Rileys, however, the family that sues together stays together...


Read the complaint here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/120358477/Gov-uscourts-cacd-551682-1-0

Thou Shall Not Bid

A famous Hollywood prop is now at the center of a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court last week by auction house Profiles in History. The auction house claims that a bidder owes it $60,000 for the Ten Commandments tablets used in the famous Cecil B. DeMille film, The Ten Commandments. Profiles in History claims that Albert Tapper and two unnamed co-defendants successfully bid for the tablets in December. The defendants also won at auction a letter written by Hollywood legend Clark Gable; the winning bid for the letter, according to the plaintiff, was $8,000.

The plaintiff also claims that, following the auction in mid-December, its offices were closed for Christmas and the New Year. After the winter break, however, Profiles in History "sent invoices to defendants and requested payment. Defendants . . . refused to purchase the substantially more expensive [tablets] but represented that they would purchase the . . . [Clark Gable letter]." According to the complaint, the defendants claimed that they would not pay for the tablets because they "did not receive an immediate confirmation that they had won the items but instead had to wait two weeks to find out." The auction house continues to state that the "[d]efendants concealed from plaintiff the fact that they had no intention of paying for the major item purchased at auction, but that defendants carried out an elaborate plan in which they would agree to purchase the substantially less expensive item while keeping the major item for which they were the successful bidder from being sold to anyone else at the auction. This could only have been done through intentional manipulation."

The tablets were originally created by the Paramount Pictures prop department in 1956 for the classic movie The Ten Commandments. According to the complaint, the tablets measure 23 inches by 12 inches by 1 inch, and were "(c)onstructed of richly hewn fiberglass on wood backing ... in an early Canaanite script practiced in the late Bronze Age (c. 13th century B.C.) Moses era. These tablets were created by Paramount Studios scenic artist A.J. Cirialo, who made them to be slightly irregular with molded chips, craters and dings since they were to be carved with God's fire bolts, and he painted them in great detail to appear as carved stone." Also included in plaintiff's suit is a description of the Clark Gable letter. The letter dates from fall 1928, written just before Gable's "breakout performance on Broadway." The letter, cited in full in the complaint, hints at the difficult relationship the Hollywood star had with his estranged father, Will.

The auction house demands $81,600 and punitive damages for fraudulent concealment, fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation and breach of written contract.



More legal trouble for Facebook: Instagram--Facebook's recently acquired photo sharing service was served last month as part of what appears to be the first civil lawsuit to result from the photo service's newly revised terms of service. The suit, filed in federal court in San Francisco, raises breach of contract and other claims against the company. The complaint laments the fact that "customers who do not agree with Instagram's terms can cancel their profile," but then are forced to forfeit rights to photos they had previously shared on the service. "In short," the plaintiff states, "Instagram declares that 'possession is nine-tenths of the law' and if you don't like it, you can't stop us."

Instagram's new terms of service sparked outrage across the Internet over a new provision in the terms that would allow the company to utilize users' photos without compensation. The new provisions also included a mandatory arbitration clause, which forced "users to waive their rights to participate in a class action lawsuit, except under very limited circumstances." According to CNBC, the former terms of service contained no such "liability shield." Displeasure with the new terms of service eventually led Instagram founder and CEO Kevin Systrom to "retreat partially" from the new terms, ultimately deleting the language about displaying photos without compensation. Instagram did, however, keep language that "gave it the ability to place ads in conjunction with user content." The new terms also state that "[Instagram] may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such." Kurt Opsahl, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, previously criticized Instagram for its revised terms of service; Opsahl later went on to say, however, that he was "pleased that the company rolled back some of the advertising terms and agreed to better explain their plans in the future."

So, unfortunately for Facebook and Instagram, it does not appear that 2013 will be a litigation-free year. Be sure to look out for class action notices in the mail, fellow Facebook and Instragram users!


Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on January 21, 2013 2:54 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Economic Espionage Act.

The next post in this blog is Armstrong Comes Clean; The Legal and Economic Fallout of an Athlete's Mea Culpa.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.